When I’m overwhelmed with the juggling act of parenting, working, housekeeping, relationships, and self-care, I’m often told “it’s all about balance.” This well-intended phrase is meant to make me feel I can give up a little in one area to feel better about another. If I don’t mop the floor tonight I can have more quality time with my kids. If I skip Zumba I can meal plan and grocery shop. That is not balance. That is trade-off. Balance implies a sense of serenity and peace. Nothing about being a working mom hints at the calmness of balance. Trade-off is active and engaging plea bargaining with your family, friends, job and self. And I believe it can be done, but not with the delusion that there will tranquility.
A very wise working mother colleague and I had an reflective discussion about trade-off earlier this week. As we talked I surmised that effective trade-off comes from organization, time management and discipline to the former two. I’ve spent most of my life as a cluttered procrastinator so success with trade-off is challenging for me. While I’m pretty good at knowing what I need to do, the follow-through (after countless nights of inadequate sleep or unexpected obstacles) is inconsistent.
One way I’ve discovered to help me navigate this trade-off tornado is to set small, attainable, daily goals. Recommitting to my time-savers helps considerably make mornings run smoother. But, some weeks I don’t do them because life gets in the way. While those little time-savers have a big impact, there are some more global strategies I use to help my manage trade-offs.
1. Shared calender: One of the biggest hurdles with working mommy trade-off is tracking all the players. Daddysaurus and I discovered early we needed to share a calendar to keep ourselves sane. There may be other members of your family, friends, or baby-sitters who need in on this. Daddysaurus and I use Google Calendar/Outlook to keep our schedules straight. At first it felt really weird to send a meeting request to let him know I had a hair appointment and needed him to be free to watch the kids. However, we were losing each other’s schedules in emails and a paper calendar didn’t work for us. Respecting each other’s time is a critical component of success in our trade-offs. If I have plans to see a show with my mom, he knows he has to be home. If he has a late night at work, I know to plan dinner accordingly (pizza!). I also include work events that I need to keep on our radar. It’s all synced to our phones so we can access each other’s schedules anytime, anywhere.
2. Realistic expectations: I know I can’t/won’t come home and clean every night. Daddysaurus and I do the dishes and pick up what we need to, but we save most of the cleaning for the weekend. That’s just how we roll. It always has been. I tried once to implement this grandiose cleaning plan for weeknights and I ended up frustrated, exhausted, and crabby. Part of trade-off is knowing what you are willing to trade off. Daddysaurus and I don’t want to trade off our time together in the evenings to mop or dust. So we don’t and it works for us.
3. Communication: I really hate when people use the nebulous “communication” as a tangible object to fix or improve so I’ll clarify. Specifically, I mean to communicate when you are frustrated and when you are pleased. This can be hard for me. When I’m exhausted and upset I have a hard time generating logical and thoughtful “I” statements to express myself. Often I end up having a meltdown about some minute detail and then it all comes out in a spray of tears and demands. I will say that 1) practice and 2) several good nights of sleep have improved my communication abilities. The ironic thing is that often communication almost always leads to improvement so I don’t know why it is such a stumbling block for me. Recently my husband realized through a series of meltdowns that I was overwhelmed by getting the kids in the door, starting dinner, and managing the two while we waited for him to get home. He offered to take over the cooking of dinner. WOAH! Total game changer! He loves to cook. As a Southerner, he doesn’t ever feel pressure to be rushed while cooking like I did. Had I communicated this earlier, I could have saved myself from trading off other priorities (like the time I get to spend with the kids while he cooks). AND I feel it is equally important to communicate when things are going well. I really want him to keep cooking so I try to make sure I compliment his cooking and thank him for doing it. It’s easy to take for granted when things are going well, but it makes both of you feel better to recognize what you appreciate in each other. This doesn’t just have to be with a spouse – it can be a grandparent, caregiver, or friend who improves the quality of your trade-offs.
4. Reboot and Update: Like my old Dell Inspiron, sometimes I need a reboot. Trade-offs aren’t carved in stone and as life changes they need an edit. This can be tough because “rebooting” or updating can shake up a comfortable routine and cause anxiety. Believe me, I get it. It also can be just thing thing to relieve anxiety. To illustrate, I had given up on exercising for the past couple of years. That sounds terrible, but it was something I traded off for sleep and time with Daddysaurus. Last month my neighbor asked me if I wanted to attend a Zumba class with her once a week. My immediate response was, “No, I don’t have time for that.” But then I thought about it- Daddysaurus cooks, bedtimes are going smoother, it would be nice to get to know my neighbor better- yes, I will try Zumba. And I LOVE IT! It’s a whole hour of dancing, moving, and me time. I couldn’t believe when the first class was finished because it went by so fast. Will I be able to keep it up forever? Probably not, but for now I can work it into my life because my other trade-offs allow for it.
5. Acceptance: I’m the grownup now. Sometimes that is awesome like when I have a glass of chardonnay and Oreos for dinner. But mostly, it means that I am responsible to the family Daddysaurus and I have created. We choose to live out of the city in a small town because we value a quiet, slow-paced environment for our children’s future. The trade-off is an inconvenient commute and family time lost during the travels. That is our choice. We accept it and embrace it. Trade-offs don’t give you everything you want or need, but hopefully you are able to accept the life you live.
Trading off is dynamic. It looks different for every family based on their values and priorities. It can make you feel resentful and guilty. It can also supply a lot of relief and happiness. Trading off applies to all moms, not just working moms. That’s just my niche.
What trade offs do you make to keep your family top spinning?